Matt and his dachshund Eric’s pawsome volunteering!

One of our amazing volunteers, Matt Gillatt, told us what inspired him to volunteer for us and about his Pets As Therapy dog, Eric:

I’ve been volunteering with Martin House for over three-and-a-half years, with my dachshund Eric, who is a trained Pets As Therapy (PAT) dog.

I got Eric as a therapy dog for myself, following a road traffic accident which left me with a traumatic brain injury. My occupational therapist suggested training him as a PAT dog and volunteering together as part of my recovery.

Initially we visited an elderly care home, but Eric was a bit too young and lively to be a good fit. As I’d previously been a children’s nurse, I thought Martin House would be perfect, so we came for a few trial visits — I loved it, and Eric was really good.

We usually visit once a week, and children have the chance to interact with Eric. It could be helping a child or young person to stroke Eric, or showing them how to get Eric to perform his tricks — I always bring a big bag of treats with me.

We’ve had some great moments during our visits to Martin House — there have been times where children who have been quite distressed have calmed down when they get to stroke Eric.

Last time we were there, a little girl who was non-verbal started hooting when she stroked Eric, and the care team member looking after her said it was the first sound she’d heard her make that day.

It’s really nice to know he’s making an impact with them, and the children really respond to him.

He also has a big impact on siblings when they come to stay at Martin House. There were brothers in a couple of weeks ago, and I was showing them a game I play with Eric, where I hide treats and he goes to find them. They were just loving it.

When we arrive at Martin House, Eric starts yipping the way he does when we go to the park, because he knows he’s going to have fun and get lots of attention.

I also enjoy the chance to chat with families and the care team — I remember once being sat chatting, and Eric had gone to sleep on the floor. With all the children around, I’d have expected him to be on the alert, so it’s a testament to the atmosphere at Martin House.

There’s a real community spirit at Martin House, and it’s a part of my routine that I look forward to. People are always happy to see us, and are so welcoming, that they make me feel a part of the team, and that’s really nice.

Since my accident, I’ve struggled with my confidence and anxiety, but I’ve been encouraged and helped all the way — staff make you feel like you belong there, there’s lots of trust and open communication, and I’m definitely more confident now than when I started. It would be fantastic in time to work as a member of the care team – it’s my dream working environment.

I also volunteered in the Martin House Yeadon shop for a while as part of my rehab, again to help build my confidence and polish up my CV. I absolutely loved it and it made me feel more part of the community.

I got on really well with the manager, and I felt the staff had more faith in me than I had in myself — it was good to know they trusted my judgement and it helped boost my confidence.

I’d encourage anyone thinking of volunteering to definitely do it. If you are doing something nice, it doesn’t need to give you something back, but I feel Martin House is such a lovely place, it’s a really big boost and gives me purpose.

For further information contact: media@martinhouse.org.uk

Photo of Mark holding Eric.

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